SINGAPORE: Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian made the decision to contest in this current Presidential Election 2023 when it became unmistakably apparent to him that businessman George Goh, whom he described as an “independent person,” would not meet the eligibility criteria.
In an exclusive interview with Singapore’s state media CNA, Mr Tan openly acknowledged that George Goh was undoubtedly a stronger candidate due to his resources and relative youthfulness.
“But somehow I think … fate just decided that I should be the one to carry the flag of the independent choice.”
Before his own eligibility was confirmed, Tan expressed his readiness to step aside in case George Goh qualified, as he was concerned about potentially fragmenting the support of Singaporeans who favoured such an independent candidate.
Drawing from his experience in 2011, The second-time Presidential Candidate stressed the significance of not dividing the “non-establishment vote.”
“I believe that the people of Singapore deserve the chance to vote for an independent candidate,” he reiterated.
Looking ahead, Tan asserted that if he were to emerge victorious in the Presidential Election, he would diligently fulfil his duty to enhance the well-being of Singaporeans.
On the flip side, he quipped, “And if I don’t win … I will enjoy my retirement years.”
George Goh failed Presidential Election eligibility bid
While former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, former GIC Chief Investment Officer Ng Kok Song, and Tan Kin Lian have successfully secured their positions as contenders in PE 2023, the founder of Harvey Norman, George Goh, unfortunately did not obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
Mr Goh had applied for eligibility via the private sector “deliberative track”, specifically under section 19(4)(b)(2) of the Singapore constitution, citing five companies he spearheaded over three years, with a claimed cumulative shareholders’ equity of S$1.521 billion.
Subsequently, George Goh expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) to reject his candidacy for the presidential position in taking a narrow interpretation of his qualifications.
In response, the PEC countered Goh’s claims and underscored that the Constitution mandates the committee to gauge whether an applicant has derived experience and capability from directing a single, prominent private sector entity.
“The experience and ability that comes from managing multiple smaller private sector organisations is not equivalent to this,” stated the PEC in a statement on 18 August.
Mr Tan believes he has “good chance against Tharman”
While not everyone agrees with Tan Kin Lian’s decision to enter the presidential race for a second time, he holds firm in his belief that 2011 was not his time, but 2023 will be.”
He asserts that the conditions in 2023 are more favourable to him due to prevalent sentiments on the ground. Many people are grappling with the high cost of living, expensive housing, job uncertainties, and are actively seeking solutions.
Acknowledging that his family members doubt his chances against Tharman, Tan Kin Lian states, “I disagree with them. I think I have a good chance against Tharman.”
“They don’t want to go through the trauma again after 2011 … I told them this time they don’t need to be involved. They should carry on (with) their lives and I will be the only one who will campaign.”
Reflecting on that time, he concedes that the shock of receiving such a low vote percentage was substantial.
He attributes this outcome to split votes and the presence of several other non-establishment candidates who attracted the majority of votes.
Mr Tan firmly believes in his duty to serve the country and its people
Mr Tan firmly expressed to the state media his motivation for running for President, stating, “It’s for the country, it’s for the people.” He believes that this endeavour is akin to a duty he must fulfil.
When questioned about potential changes to his social media approach should he be elected President, Mr Tan confirmed his willingness to adapt.
However, he also voiced disagreement with critics who prescribe a specific demeanour for the President.
He responded, “If the critics were to come and say: ‘Mr Tan is just not presidential’, that’s your view.”
“I’ve got other people who say … Kin Lian, be ordinary, that’s where you can better reach the people.”
According to Mr Tan, this authenticity is his strong point – the ability for others to relate to him. He believes that his relatability is an asset that sets him apart.
Earlier, Mr Tan has found himself entwined with a fiery debate concerning his previous social media posts.
Addressing the issue later, he expressed confusion as to why this was turned into a negative aspect, perceiving unfair and dishonest portrayal by mainstream media.
“I don’t know why somebody would want to use that as a negative point,” he said, “But in case some other ladies, after reading this, think that they are uncomfortable, I want to apologise to them.”
Mr Tan’s previous Facebook posts have raised eyebrows, including a 2019 instance where he shared his NRIC number and personal information to demonstrate his belief that concerns about privacy around such details were exaggerated.
Reflecting on the matter, he expressed no regrets about the post and mentioned that he received abusive messages as a result, which he chose to ignore.
During the interview, Mr Tan also shared insights into his modest upbringing. He recounted how he had to leave school after completing Secondary 4 in 1965 due to his father’s job loss. He felt compelled to step up and support his family.
Coming from a financially challenged family of six children, Mr. Tan experienced living in various rented homes during his youth.
Hence, he told CNA that he was “very familiar with many parts of Singapore” as his family often from place to place, before eventually buying an HDB flat in Marine Parade.
Reflecting on his early career, Mr. Tan started as a clerk at an insurance company, earning a monthly salary of S$180 (US$130).
His trajectory led him to become an insurance actuary, and he joined NTUC Income, a cooperative established in 1970 to provide life insurance to the working class.
Leveraging his computer programming background, Mr. Tan introduced a pivotal computer system that became the foundation for the company’s achievements.
Never travelled in first class during his tenure at NTUC Income
Advancing from general manager to CEO, he held the position for 30 years until 2007. Mr Tan attributed his success at NTUC Income to efficient and cost-effective management practices.
He emphasized his consistent practice of opting for economy class on long-distance flights, declining the allure of business or first-class travel because the ticket simply cost “too much”.
“When you are going to fly long distance, the air ticket is one month of salary. It is too much. So therefore, I flew economy most of the time,” he said.
“When the company grew to be bigger, (and) more able to afford (it), I still continued to be quite frugal. Sometimes I flew business class, but never first class.”